MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This week, the head of the country's oldest Latino civil rights organization took a surprising position. We are talking about Roger Rocha. He's president of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. On Sunday, he endorsed White House principles for an immigration deal in a letter of thanks to President Trump. Those principles include border security, ending the visa lottery, cutting back on family reunification along with DACA, legalizing people who were brought over the border as young children. Rocha withdrew his letter after an outpouring of criticism and calls for him to resign.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Well, Rocha is not resigning. He says his talks with the administration and lawmakers from both parties have moved the needle, including in getting all 1.8 million DREAMers included in the deal, not just 800,00 DACA recipients. And he says he moved the needle by laying out what enhanced border security could look like.
ROGER ROCHA: I live on the border. I live right on the border with Mexico, I could tell you. And being at the table, we were able to position a wall of technology - drones, motion sensors, cameras, et cetera. And we were also able to position - you don't need a wall where there are natural barriers - rivers and mountains. And for a short time, you heard the president saying that.
SHAPIRO: LULAC has long called for Congress to pass a clean DACA Bill, so Rocha's willingness to engage on border security and the president's other pillars is a dramatic reversal. He told me he wrote the controversial letter because he fears if no deal is struck now, DREAMers will be left with nothing.
ROCHA: It's going to cost the DREAMers any chance they have of not living in fear anymore. The program will expire, and that's it. Now, I recognize - 'cause I told them; I said, well, a federal judge issued a TRO on that. They're like, yeah.
SHAPIRO: Temporary restraining order.
ROCHA: Temporary restraining order - but the moment a higher court reverses it, the program ends.
SHAPIRO: The language of the letter says, I would like to begin by congratulating you on setting out a reasonable framework. That congratulatory tone seems to have been what made a lot of people upset.
ROCHA: You are correct. And I do apologize for making people upset with, you know, the word congratulations or thank you.
SHAPIRO: Do you think it was the wrong position to take policy wise?
ROCHA: I don't think it's the wrong position to say we need to be at the bargaining table.
SHAPIRO: But to endorse those four principles?
ROCHA: I don't think it's the wrong position because remember; part of those principles we contributed to. We know we got what we wanted for the DREAMers. We moved it to 1.8. We know we're back again to a wall of technology, so we're pretty good there. Now the discussions are moving towards the lottery visa system and the family reunification. So it's got to be one step at a time. But the point...
SHAPIRO: So it doesn't sound like you've changed your position that the four principles are fundamentally sound. Did you then withdraw the letter just because you were under so much pressure from members of your organization?
ROCHA: I withdrew it because I saw and I received emails from the immigrant community. And that's what really tugged at me. My letter was not intended to harm the immigrant community or the DREAMers. But I have to see reality. You can't advocate on any issue if you're not at the table.
SHAPIRO: Sounds like you're saying the immigrant community needs to be more willing to compromise than perhaps people have been in the past.
ROCHA: Yes because it's like when you're going to make a deal, you want to get what you want, and I'm going to get what I want. You compromise. OK, I'll give you this for that. For me, it is like a hostage situation. In a hostage situation, you try to save as many people as possible.
SHAPIRO: I think many people would look at the poll numbers and say, look; not only does a vast majority of Americans support DACA. A majority of Republicans supports DACA. The government won't be funded unless Democrats pitch in and give their votes. This is a moment that a group like LULAC should have a lot of leverage. So why should you be willing to give up things like family reunification, border security, things like that that the membership might not be excited about?
ROCHA: Well, we're not giving up family reunification. We're not giving up on anything.
SHAPIRO: Let me say make concessions on family reunification, the border wall...
ROCHA: Well, on that, on family unification, those discussions are still being had. But we need the community to come out and say, hey, if you support, you know, the DREAMers - because apparently more than 80 percent of this country does - you need to start calling your member of Congress and saying, look; make a deal. We support it. Get it done. At the end of the day, I know I've received a lot of criticism, and I can live with it. But if at the end of the day we pass something to help 1.8 million individuals, I know that I did my job regardless of what you think of me, regardless of all of the hate that has been thrown my way. We now need to redirect that at members of Congress so they can get something passed. We are on the clock.
SHAPIRO: Roger Rocha, thank you very much.
ROCHA: Thank you, Sir.
SHAPIRO: He's the president of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.